High school students explore College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

October 22, 2012 under CANR News

High school students interested in studying food science, plant and soil science and poultry science at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) had a chance to take a closer look at those fields on Friday, Oct. 12, as part of the college’s Exploration Day.

The day started with a continental breakfast in the Townsend Hall Commons followed by a reception at which professors from the departments welcomed the students to the college.

Among those were Blake Meyers, the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Jack Gelb, professor and chair of the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.

Meyers talked about the diverse areas of expertise in the plant and soil sciences department, with professors working in areas ranging from horticulture to landscape design to sequencing plant DNA. “It’s a remarkable department for the range of expertise that we have and we have wonderful student to faculty ratios,” said Meyers. “We have a relatively small undergraduate program, and a larger graduate program in some respects, so that really affords a lot of opportunities for one on one interactions between students and faculty and a lot of research opportunities, and of course a lot of those opportunities lead to internships and lead to jobs later on.”

Gelb spoke to the parents and students about the plethora of job opportunities available to them in the agriculture and natural resources field. “Colleges of agriculture and natural resources generally graduate 30,000 students a year across this nation but really, we need about 50,000 to 60,000,”said Gelb. “There are many job opportunities, so I think this is good news for the parents and the students alike, especially when you’re making a big commitment for that college education.”

After a presentation on admissions and scholarships by Heidi Mulherin, UD admissions counselor, the students divided into three groups — one for students interested in food science, one for plant science and one for poultry science.

The food science students got to visit the UDairy Creamery in the morning, where they tried their hand at making ice cream and participated in an ice cream taste test. In the afternoon, they had lessons on topics such as food packaging and investigating a foodborne illness outbreak.

The plant and soil science students learned about suburban landscaping with Sue Barton, associate professor of plant and soil science; toured the Fischer Greenhouse and the UD Botanic Gardens with David Frey, associate professor and assistant chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; and explored a plant cell with Janine Sherrier, professor of plant and soil sciences at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute.

As for the poultry science students, they had a chance to tour the Allen Laboratory in the morning, and in the afternoon, they learned about avian histopathology for disease diagnosis from Erin Brannick, assistant professor of animal and food sciences and director of the CANR Comparative Pathology Laboratory, and investigated a foodborne illness outbreak with Kali Kniel, associate professor of animal and food sciences.

The three groups had lunch together in the Townsend Hall Commons before breaking off for panel discussions with current UD students and alumni from their respective areas of interest.

Latoya Watson, academic adviser at CANR, said of the event, “Exploration Day is designed to introduce high school students to some of our science-based majors in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Students participate in hands-on activities so that they can get a better understanding of their majors of interest. For example, depending on the track students choose, ‘student explorers’ may find themselves touring our Biosafety Level 3 avian research facility, performing activities that simulate a foodborne illness outbreak or even traveling inside plant cells by using some of the most high tech microscopes. These are unique experiences that we hope give them more insight into their intended fields of study.”

Patrick McDonough, a student interested in plant science who manages his own vegetable garden at his home in New Jersey, said that he was looking forward to touring the Fischer Greenhouse.

Caroline Coffee was one of the students who participated in Exploration Day, and she said that she enjoyed touring the Allen Laboratory and getting to see the chickens. “I’ve never held a chicken before and never worked with chickens,” said Coffee. “That was just a really cool experience for me.”

Coffee, who is interested in studying veterinary medicine, said that she also enjoyed learning more about virology and getting to tour the CANR facilities. “The facilities are definitely impressive and if I decided to go here and get accepted, knowing what I would have as far as the hands-on things and the opportunities for my education was really cool.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Fall wildflower season is in full force in Delaware

September 26, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The herbaceous garden at the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens is an outdoor laboratory where students and researchers study plants, insects, landscape design and plant pathology.

It’s also one of the best go-to spots for eye-popping fall color.

Walk through the garden this month and you may encounter a student scrutinizing the Solidago rugosa‘Fireworks’ for an upcoming quiz. But there’s no need to memorize the growth habits, hardiness or soil requirements of this native goldenrod cultivar to enjoy its fluffy yellow blooms.

“The herbaceous garden is one of my favorite places to see fall color,” says Sue Barton, ornamental horticulture specialist for UD Cooperative Extension. “And it looks even better this season, now that a re-design of the garden entrance is almost complete.”

Fall wildflowers are blooming earlier this year at the herbaceous garden and throughout Delaware, reports Barton. “Fall wildflowers typically start around the end of August, are in abundance now and continue through November when late-blooming asters put on a final show of color. But many species are flowering ahead of schedule this year.”

Native perennials currently in bloom at the herbaceous garden include sedums in coral, salmon and other shades of pink, says Valann Budischak, volunteer and education coordinator for the UD Botanic Gardens.  Purple and lavender varieties of Eupatoriumare in full flower, too. Even after the blooms are done, the seed heads still look great, notes Budischak.

Early asters also are starting to pop up, and will be followed by late varieties, such as Aster oblongifolius “Raydon’s Favorite,” a showy aster that sports a profusion of blue-lavender flowers with yellow centers.

When planning for fall color in your own yard, Barton suggests thinking low as well as high. Without a doubt, many of her native fall-blooming perennials are lofty. For example, some of her New York ironweed is taller than she is – it has soared to six feet tall. Its deep purple flowers already are in bloom and will continue through the end of the month.

Although this ironweed makes an eye-catching display, Barton also likes the fall color that’s closer to the ground. Like the brilliant red foliage of Virginia creeper, a vine that can be trained to crawl, and the mottled blue-green leaves of Allegheny pachysandra, a mere six inches high.

“There are many native, low-growing groundcovers that provide great fall color,” says Barton. “Sometimes it’s the flowers that provide interest, such as the white blooms of white heath aster, which blooms from late summer into fall. In other cases, like Virginia creeper and Allegheny pachysandra, it’s the foliage that’s noteworthy.”

Groundcovers are an excellent alternative to something Barton doesn’t have much use for – mulch.

“Mulch is fine when establishing landscape beds but you should work toward having a mulch-free garden, or just small areas that are mulched. It shouldn’t be added to beds year after year,” says Barton. “Groundcovers offer the same benefits as mulch – they help regulate soil temperatures, control erosion, and help the soil retain moisture. But, unlike mulch, they also provide food and/or cover for wildlife. And you don’t have to keep buying more – groundcovers spread over time.”

Native warm-season grasses are another source of fall color that Barton utilizes widely in her yard. She especially likes the “Shenandoah” cultivar of red switch grass. In early summer, its leaves are tipped with just a bit of red but by fall the leaves are burgundy, topped by pink plumes.

Warm-season grasses are versatile. They’re well adapted to warm, sunny open spaces. Barton plants her warm-season grasses with an eye toward back lighting — taking advantage of light from the setting or rising sun.

“Ornamental grasses look particularly beautiful when back lit – the trick is position them so the light shines through them,” says Barton.

About the UD Botanic Gardens

The 15-acre UD Botanic Gardens is open to the public free of charge, from dawn to dusk daily. It’s located on the grounds of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources off Route 896, in Newark. Obtain a visitor parking pass online for $3 at this website or use the metered parking near the UDairy Creamery. For more info about the UD Botanic Gardens, go to the UDBG website or call 831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Rick Darke

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Delaware nature-lovers share their favorite places to enjoy summer in the state

June 27, 2012 under Cooperative Extension

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time. — John Lubbock

Officially, June 20 was the first day of summer, even though the unofficial signs of the season — flip flops, hammocks, water ice — blossomed weeks ago. For most of us, the workaday routine means we’re stuck inside a lot more than we’d like. When the weekend rolls around, we’re itching to get outside.

So where should we spend our precious free hours? We asked area birders, entomologists, horticulturalists and other nature-lovers about their favorite places to enjoy summer in Delaware.

Here’s what they told us:

Nature with a side of history 

My favorite spot is Brandywine Springs Park, which was an amusement park in the early 20th century and is now a county natural area.  I enjoy the sound of the water rushing through Hyde Run, a tributary of the Red Clay Creek, as I take long walks among the old trees. Since I am a history buff and a member of Friends of Brandywine Springs, I especially like the historical aspect of walking the old boardwalk area. Spending a few hours taking in the sights and sounds there refreshes me.

Eileen Boyle, horticulturalist, Hagley Museum

Flitting dragonflies

I enjoy Millstone Pond in White Clay Creek State Park. There is a small rock outcrop overlooking the pond and a nice place to sit in the shade on a sultry summer afternoon contemplating of the world around — dragonflies coursing over the pond, birds in the trees, wild flowers blooming. Just outside Delaware in Caroline County, Md., is Idylwild Wildlife Management Area. When I want to see many rare dragonflies and damselflies native to the Delmarva Peninsula that is where I go. However, one may need to suffer to be rewarded. One needs to bring water, be willing to hike a ways, and carry insect repellant.

Hal White, University of Delaware professor and author of “Natural History of Delmarva: Dragonflies and Damselflies”

A riot of blooms 

In summer, I love the rainbow of blooms in the Color Trial Garden at UD’s Botanic Gardens. Mid- to late July, it’s probably at its peak. Commercial seed companies rely on trial gardens such as this one to provide unbiased feedback about new varieties. For the public, the garden provides a sneak peek at more than a hundred yet-to-be-introduced varieties of annuals and perennials. It’s not uncommon to see people wandering through the trial garden with pencil and paper in hand to write down their favorites.

Valann Budischak, volunteer and education coordinator, UD Botanic Gardens

Cool running 

I run a lot at White Clay Creek State Park but recently I also have been working out at Lums Pond.  Especially in the summer, it is really nice to run (or walk) near a body of water. Even if you aren’t in the water, the sight and sound of water is cooling. As to plants I enjoy now, Delaware is mostly green at this point. Ferns are probably the prettiest vegetation in the summer.

Sue Barton, triathlete and UD Cooperative Extension specialist in ornamental horticulture

Sunset on the water

I like canoeing up the headwaters of Haven Lake, outside of Milford, from a public boat ramp off Williamsville Road. It features narrow channels and small islands and teems with birds, beavers, dragonflies and damselflies. You can even see insectivorous sundew and pitcher plants. Sunset is my favorite time to be on the water.

Jason Beale, manager, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Milford

A park that’s got it all

I like to go to Bellevue State Park because as a family it meets all our needs. Bellevue has gardens, nature trails, meadows, a pond, playgrounds, horses, community vegetable garden plots and more. My daughter, Teagan, is almost 3 years old and she likes the diversity of so many different things to look at. She is just fascinated by the horses. I jog on the trails and I also like to check out the garden plots. Many Master Gardeners have plots at Bellevue and I love to see what people are growing and how they are growing it.

Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension

Biking the by-ways

I moved to Delaware in January so I still consider myself new to the state. I enjoyed Cape Henlopen many times before I moved here and now I’m making new discoveries. On summer weekend mornings, I have found that the scenic by-ways following the Red Clay and Brandywine creeks are surprisingly quiet and great for road biking.  Traveling by bike, you see so much more of the creeks, historic homes, fields and forests than when traveling by car.

Brian Winslow, executive director, Delaware Nature Society 

Woodpecker and eagle hang-out 

My favorite place at Hagley is the area that extends from the steam engine display to the boat house. The view of the iron bridge, the Brandywine, the dam and the woods is spectacular. You may even see an eagle flying over the river or our pair of pileated woodpeckers feeding in the large maple next to the boat house.

Richard Pratt, supervisor of gardens and grounds, Hagley Museum 

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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UD research project hopes to curb water pollution from lawns

June 4, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

At first glance, Tim Schofield’s internship duties don’t appear much different from what any landscape worker does. Every week, June through August, this rising junior at the University of Delaware will weed landscape beds, cut back straggly branches and rake up plant debris on a one-acre yard in Applecross, a neighborhood off Route 100 in Greenville.

But Schofield also will catalog the diversity of beneficial insects, birds and other wildlife on the property, document evidence of soil erosion, and keep precise records of the time it takes to complete his tasks. It’s all part of a UD research project to see if replacing the typical suburban yard of mostly grass with one containing diverse vegetation can help protect the environment and make landscapes more sustainable.

One of the primary goals of the project is to curb water pollution at its source — preventing pollution in the first place rather than waiting to treat contaminated water after it enters waterways.

“I think people understand that water quality in urban watersheds is degraded when you increase impervious surfaces, such as roads and parking lots,” says Doug Tallamy, chair of UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and a co-investigator of the research project. “But they don’t always realize that increasing the amount of grass in an urban watershed also degrades water quality.”

A landscaping philosophy that views plants as mere ornaments has prevailed for more than a century, resulting in the replacement of native plant communities with expansive lawns. Today, a whopping 92 percent of all suburban yards consist of turf grass. Because plants are the mechanism in which water is cleaned and stored, carbon is sequestered and complex food webs are maintained, any reduction in native plant communities can only mean bad things for water quality.

“People care about clean water,” says Tallamy. “If homeowners realize that they can use their properties to clean water, sequester carbon and help pollinators, it could help change the mind set of those who demand huge lawns.”

The Applecross property is just one aspect of the UD multidisciplinary project involving five faculty members and dozens of undergraduate and graduate students. Another research site is located at Winterthur, where the team will compare the quality of a stream impacted by traditional mowed landscapes versus another stream that only receives runoff from meadows, forests and landscape beds.

Co-researchers Sue Barton, Cooperative Extension ornamental horticulture specialist and Jules Bruck, associate professor of landscape horticulture and design, worked together to create a landscape plan for the Applecross property to replace the existing turf grass monoculture. The homeowners received the landscape installation at no cost and have agreed to allow researchers onto the site every week for the next three years.

“We were starting with the typical suburban landscape with lots of grass, some foundation plantings and one or two trees in the yard,” says Barton.

Last month, Schofield and other students and volunteers set to work on the new landscape, planting 200 woody plants and 1,200 plant plugs in a matter of days. They created a 6,000 square-foot meadow of native grasses and reforested an area of lawn that adjoins a wooded tract. Invasive plants were removed and replaced by white oaks, blueberry bushes, ornamental grasses and other native species.

“There is still turf on the property but it’s being used purposefully, for recreation areas, circulation, or as the green carpet that sets off other plantings,” notes Barton.

Although the new landscape will need a year or so to fully fill in, it’s already attractive and a vast improvement over the previous vast expanse of grass.  The UD researchers recognize that homeowners aren’t going to change their ways to improve the environment unless the results look good.

“Some people have the misconception that native plants are sloppy or somehow less appealing than non-natives,” says Barton. “I think the landscape we have created in Applecross is dense, rich and beautiful and should put such misconceptions to rest.”

UD will host several public tours of the Applecross property beginning in 2013. To receive a notification of tour dates, email Barton at sbarton@udel.edu.

Schofield, who is double majoring in landscape design and agribusiness, is excited to be a part of the research project. He says he wants to learn as much as he can about sustainable landscaping so he can incorporate into his own practices. He has operated a small landscape company in Malvern, Pa., since high school and hopes to expand the business after college.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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UD horticulturalists see understated attractions of winter landscape

January 26, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The lyrics of “California Dreamin'” by John and Michelle Phillips are well known and appropriate for the season: “All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, California Dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.”

Although many yearn to flee the First State during the long slog of winter, not everyone is dreaming of California. For every Delaware gardener poring over seed catalogs and wishing for spring, there’s another gardener like John Frett who’s outside every day enjoying the landscape, regardless of the weather.

Frett, the director of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG), loves winter and spends time in his yard or the botanic gardens every day, all year long.

“I grew up in Chicago and lived in Maine for three years,” says Frett. “Delaware doesn’t know what cold weather is.”

Beyond a hearty constitution for the cold, Frett has an appreciation for the understated attractions of the winter landscape.

“The structure of the trees, shrubs and woody plants are more evident in winter when there are fewer things competing for your attention,” says Frett.

At the 15-acre UD Botanic Gardens, the leaves are long gone (evergreens excepted) so it’s easy to see that trees come in all shapes and sizes. There are columnar, round, conical, broad-spreading, upright-spreading, weeping and elliptical trees in the gardens. And a wide range of texture is now revealed, from the peel-away bark of the paperbark maple to the ridged and furrowed bark of the tulip poplar.

But it’s not just a lack of competing attractions that makes the winter landscape visually arresting for Andrew Olson, public landscape manager for the Delaware Center for Horticulture. He points out that the weaker winter sun casts a different light on things.

“The lower angle of the sun in the winter really highlights grasses and garden structures,” says Olson. “Even the silhouettes of trees ‘pop’ in the waning afternoon light. A garden or natural landscape that may seem brown and bleak can be spectacular as the sun rises or sets.”

Carrie Murphy, New Castle County horticulture agent for UD Cooperative Extension, notes that a landscape’s backbone is completely revealed in winter. “Everything is completely naked and the landscape’s overall shape and structure becomes a focal point.”

“I also appreciate how sounds move through a winter landscape — everything is much more audible — the whipping winds, rustling leaves and movements of wildlife,” she says.

Eileen Boyle looks for the small details in the landscape. “While the perennials sleep off the winter and the bulbs wait their turn, I am enjoying the daily show of the ferns, mosses and other little plants that are last to go dormant,” says Boyle, a horticulturalist at Hagley Museum and Gardens.

Fellow Hagley horticulturalist Renee Huber says that she appreciates the structure of beech and sycamore trees in winter.

“I always enjoy the sycamore trees against the Brandywine this time of year; they’re like gentle giants with white and gray blotched bark,” says Huber.

Sue Barton, UD Cooperative Extension specialist for ornamental horticulture, likes the sycamore in winter, too. Other favorites include river birch, winterberry holly and the Emerald Sentinel variety of Eastern red cedar, which has vivid blue fruit.

Bob Lyons, director of UD’s Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture, admits that he doesn’t much like winter. However, he does appreciate the architecture of trees now, especially when they’re outlined by a wet snow.  He particularly enjoys sweet gum, tulip poplar and deciduous hollies.

If the winter landscape looks enticing — that is, until you read the forecast and hear the winds howl — Olson has just two words of advice: “get outside.”

“Put on some layers and get out there,” he says. “You will be so glad you did.”

Here are some of the things to see in the late-January landscape:

• At the Delaware Center for Horticulture’s gardens, which are free and open to the public, a bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’) gets lots of attention this time of year because of its intensely colored red and orange stems. Also look for the black pussy willow, which is beginning to display purplish black catkins. The Kentucky coffee tree, paperbark maple and river birch also look great this time of year, says Olson.

• Evergreen fans will want to check out the UD Botanic Gardens, which has a large collection of both conifer and broad-leaf evergreens. Native species include the loblolly pine and American holly. And you’ll find many other hollies — the UDBG features 50-plus varieties and is a test arboretum for the American Holly Society.

• At Hagley Museum and Gardens, snowdrops are in bloom in front of the Hagley residences and skunk cabbage is blooming in the woods and by the river. Boyle notes that the bright orange rose hips on old-fashioned antique variety roses provide perching and food for local birds.  Hagley arborist Richard Pratt loves Hagley’s osage orange in wintertime. “It stands like a large bronze sculpture with its deeply furrowed copper-colored bark on its majestic trunk and its crown spreading high and wide into the sky,” says Pratt.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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UD, Hagley horticulturalists offer seasonal decorating tips

December 2, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

An October hike always puts Renee Huber in a holiday state of mind. It’s not the reds and golds of the autumn leaves that do it; it’s because, like, Santa, Huber knows she has a big holiday job on the horizon.

She is responsible for planning and installing the holiday decorations at Hagley Museum, which includes not only Eleutherian Mills, the du Pont family home; but also the Belin House, home to an organic café; the Soda House, where special events are held; and Gibbons House, where visitors can make paper ornaments or pop corn on a wood-burning stove.

“I start thinking about each year’s theme and what materials I’m going to use in October,” says Huber, who has been a Hagley horticulturalist for 17 years. “I love walks and hikes and get inspired by what I see in the landscape. Before I go to bed, I take notes and make sketches so I don’t forget my ideas.”

By mid-October, Huber has ordered all of her supplies. In early November she gets a jump start on any tasks that can be done in advance. Mid to late November is crunch time, when she and a team of volunteers make the decorations and install them. Recently, the first visitors streamed in to enjoy “Christmas at Hagley.”

As much as possible, Huber uses natural plant materials collected from Hagley’s 235 acres. Evergreens are a mainstay but she’s always on the look out for other materials. “I love seed heads and ornamental grasses,” she says. “Pink mulhy is a native grass that’s most dramatic in fall, with pink, wispy flower heads. But after the frost, when the flower heads have turned brown, I like to tuck strands of this grass into wreaths, garlands and other decorations.”

Like Huber, Sue Barton is a big fan of natural holiday decorations. But for Barton there’s nothing stressful about the decorating process. An ornamental horticulture specialist for UD Cooperative Extension, Barton decorates her own home, not a museum that attracts thousands of visitors during the holiday season.

The Sunday afternoon she makes decorations is one of the high points of the season for Barton. She collects materials from her 7-acre property and often snips evergreen magnolias branches from a friend’s yard. And this year her decorations will include lots of Eastern red cedar and blue-hued berries, which she collected recently on a long weekend in the Outer Banks.

“It’s a lot more fun and a lot more relaxing than shopping for tinsel and garland,” says Barton. “Simple homemade decorations are nicer than anything you can buy. And they bring a touch of the outdoors inside during a time of year when most of us don’t get outside as much.”

Huber maintains a cutting garden specifically for decorating purposes, planted with a variety of evergreens, winterberry and other perennial favorites. But most of us don’t have that luxury. So it’s important to prune carefully so that your landscape still looks good when you’re done, cautions Barton.

Cut back to the trunk or another branch, she says. Stay away from hemlock and spruce because their needles will start dropping within days in a heated home. Barton soaks her greens overnight to re-hydrate them but Huber skips that step. Because both horticulturalists put up their decorations early, they check throughout the season to see if anything needs to be replaced.

“If evergreens become dried out they’re a fire hazard,” notes Barton.

If you don’t consider yourself a natural Martha Stewart or P. Allen Smith, no worries. Barton says to go with the flow and let nature inspire you. “I never know what I’m going to cut until I get out there and see what looks good,” she says. “Even during the crafting process, I don’t work from carefully laid-out plans.”

But if you work better with a little instruction, here are some tips, courtesy of the UD and Hagley horticulturalists:

• Be bold with color. Think beyond the classic red, green and silver. This season Huber used lots of yellow. For example, she paired yellow yarrow and bright red winterberry in several decorations to good effect. Both plants are native to Delaware and easy to grow.

• Think beyond tried-and-true evergreens. Barton often decorates with oak leaf hydrangea, which still sports fall foliage in gorgeous shades of maroon. As long as you place the branches in water, hydrangea will stay fresh in your home into December.

• Start collecting materials now even if you don’t plan to make your decorations until later in the season. When you’re out in the yard or on a walk, look for interesting berries, pine cones and nuts. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a long-abandoned bird’s nest to tuck into an evergreen wreath.

• A basket of pine cones, in all shapes and sizes, makes an attractive, rustic centerpiece. Add a bit of greenery and fresh citrus to the basket for texture, color and a great aroma. For something a bit splashier, spray paint the cones gold.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article was originally posted on UDaily

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UD professors gear up for study on lawns, water quality and ecosystem services

October 6, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Taking a fresh look at water quality management, a University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) research team is studying how the replacement of urban lawns with more diverse vegetation can help protect the environment and make our landscapes more sustainable.

The researchers have been awarded a $595,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and will be working at the Winterthur Gardens on their project.

Shreeram Inamdar, CANR associate professor of plant and soil sciences, is the principal investigator and the research team includes Doug Tallamy, chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology; Susan Barton, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a Cooperative Extension specialist; Jules Bruck, assistant professor of landscape horticulture and design; and Joshua Duke, professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics.

One of the main goals of the three-year study, funded through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) National Integrated Water Quality program, is to try to curb water pollution at its source — preventing pollution in the first place rather than waiting to treat contaminated water before it enters waterways.

“In the past, standard water quality management has focused on intercepting dirty water before it gets into water systems,” explained Tallamy. “We’re doing the opposite — we’re trying to keep the water clean from the start.”

The researchers believe this can be accomplished by shrinking the lawn and replacing it with more diverse vegetation, thus reducing fertilizer and herbicide inputs and enabling water filtration, which will lead to less storm water runoff and cleaner water.

Diverse vegetation also is expected to provide other natural ecosystem services — such as carbon sequestration, preserving biodiversity and natural pest control — that are associated with mixed vegetation landscapes.

Inamdar noted that the ability to look at both of these aspects is a unique opportunity for the researchers. “One of the great things on this proposal is that we get to look at water quality as well as ecosystem services,” he said. “Not many projects take that view, so I think that’s a very novel approach.”

To conduct the study, the group will be comparing watersheds with different vegetation types at Winterthur.

Barton explained that the group will look at runoff from different types of watersheds at Winterthur — one site will be a mown turf field that will be managed in the manner of a residential lawn and the other will be primarily forest and meadow.

By doing this, Barton explained, “We can directly compare these two streams, which are very close to each other, under the same weather conditions. One gets the residential lawn runoff and one gets the diverse landscape runoff.”

The team has also secured a local homeowner’s landscape for the research. Bruck said the property will be “used as a test garden, and will become a demonstration garden to show these different sustainable principles and practices.”

Barton noted that public tours of the sites will eventually be offered.

Planting will begin next spring and as soon as the team gathers enough information and data, it will provide educational courses at Winterthur to disseminate key information to the public.

Tallamy said that making this information readily available is an effort to “change the status symbol. Right now, the status symbol is a big lawn and we’re trying to make it more diverse.”

This is also one of the main focuses of the Center for Managed Ecosystems, of which Tallamy is the director.

Duke’s role will be to determine how much it would cost a homeowner to manage their property in a more diverse manner, as opposed to how much it costs to simply manage a big lawn. Said Duke, “We suspect that it might not be that lawn is actually the cheapest way to manage things. It may be that it’s cheaper for an owner to manage in a more sustainable manner; they might just not realize it because it’s not the status quo.”

Undergraduate and graduate students will be involved in many aspects of the research, from helping the group gather information on water quality, ecosystem services and the economic implications to helping in the design of the more sustainable garden.

Bruck explained that students in her Basic Landscape Design course will “work through the design process to come up with demonstration plans that will be presented to the University of Delaware Botanical Gardens (UDBG) and then we’ll post the plans on our website, for educational purposes for other homeowners.”

For now, the team is gearing up for the spring and ready to get the study under way, hoping to improve water quality and change the status quo from large lawns to diverse, more sustainable ecosystems.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

Graphic courtesy Jules Bruck

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Where the wildflowers are

September 22, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Spring blooms may have their legions of fans but Sue Barton unabashedly favors the flowers of fall.

“Fall is, by far, the more interesting time in Delaware’s landscape,” says Barton, noting the juxtaposition of flowers, grasses, foliage and fruit in shades of yellow, red, orange, blue, purple, white and more.  Barton, the ornamental horticulture specialist for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, points out that the ever-changing colors make for a new and different landscape every week.

The autumnal equinox is Sept. 23 and the fall wildflower season already is shaping up to be a beauty.

“The fall wildflowers actually start around the end of August, are in abundance now, and continue through Thanksgiving, when the late-blooming asters put on final show of color,” says Barton.

Native wildflowers currently in bloom include goldenrod, tickseed, ironweed, goldentop, ladies’-tresses, some species of coneflower and asters.

One of the best places to see fall wildflowers is Mt. Cuba Center. Along the woodland paths and in the meadow you’ll find white wood aster, purple dome New England aster, golden fleece autumn goldenrod, fireworks wrinkle-leaf goldenrod, blue-stemmed goldenrod and showy goldenrod.

Other fall highlights include black-eyed Susan and two varieties of Joe-Pye weed, (Eupatorium maculatum ‘Gateway’) and (Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’), according to Jeanne Frett, horticultural research manager of Mt. Cuba.

Plus, goldentop is abundant in the center’s meadow and ladies’-tresses dots the woods. One of Frett’s favorite fall wildflowers is Chelone, commonly known as turtlehead because the flowers are shaped a bit like a turtle’s head. The species that Frett prefers sports hot pink flowers and grows throughout Mt. Cuba’s woods.  She also likes Gentiana clausa,aka bottle gentian, which features vivid purple-blue flowers.

Winterthur Museum’s gardens also are a good place to check out colorful native wildflowers. The museum’s Quarry Garden woodlands feature asters and alumroot. Barton says that this woodland is a great place to observe the way that nature creates patterns in the landscape, such as the drifts of blooms often found under trees.

“For those plants that are dependent on distribution by birds, you’ll find a lot more plants directly under the trees or near the trees,” says Barton. “The birds distribute fewer seeds the further you get away from their nests.”

Barton enjoys looking for patterns — both natural and human-made — in the landscape. “There’s often an element of surprise, you wonder why a particular species is abundant in one spot and not another, and then you realize that the conditions are different in terms of moisture or sunlight or some other factor,” notes Barton.

“I like change in the garden and in the landscape,” she adds. “Natural patterns in the landscape provide that element of change, and so, too, do the varying colors of fall’s flowers, grasses, foliage and fruit.”

Mt. Cuba and Winterthur both offer wildflower walks. Events at Mt. Cuba include “Autumnal Wildflower Garden” tours through Oct. 2. For tour days and more information, go to www.mtcubacenter.org or call 302-239-4244.

At Winterthur, “Wednesday Garden Walks” are held each week; wildflowers can be seen on the Oct. 5 walk, titled “The Purple and Red of Sycamore Hill,” and on the Oct. 12 “Harvest-Time Hike.” For more information, go to www.winterthur.org or call 302-888-4600.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo courtesy Mt. Cuba

Also online on UDaily 

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Natural materials make great holiday decorations, even on a budget

December 15, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Six years ago, Americans spent almost $8 billion on holiday decorations, according to research firm Unity Marketing. That averaged out to $115 per household.

Hot trends included multiple Christmas trees in the family room, living room, foyer and beyond. Pam Danziger, president of Unity, said in 2004, “Families are spreading the holiday cheer to the bedroom too, with personal trees placed in each bedroom.”

My, how a recession changes things. Last year, the average household spent $40.75 on holiday decorations, according to the National Retail Federation.

But the size of one’s decorating budget doesn’t have much to do with the end result. Take Sue Barton’s greenery-bedecked home in Landenberg, Pa., which sports gorgeous, oversized evergreen wreaths on every door, lush evergreen magnolia in the dining room and an elegant arrangement of Carolina silverbell branches in the foyer.

These warm and welcoming decorations cost her about $5 annually — the price of florist wire, a can of spray paint and glue. Barton, the ornamental horticulture specialist for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, decorates her house with natural materials — greenery, pine cones, berries and more — that she collects in her backyard. Although Barton uses plenty of American holly and Virginia pine, she goes beyond such tried-and-true favorites and collects seed pods, native grasses and even red-twig dogwood branches to create out-of-the-ordinary decorations.

She’s been decorating this way for years and regardless of economic conditions, wouldn’t think to use store-bought wreaths. “I look forward to making decorations from the trees, shrubs and native grasses growing on my property,” says Barton. “It’s a lot of fun and a lot more relaxing than shopping for tinsel and garland.”

If you’re not the neighborhood Martha Stewart, no worries, it’s not that hard to make holiday decorations, says Barton. She creates her wreaths free-form, bending branches into shape and wiring them together. But if you’re a fumble fingers, spend the extra dollar or two on a pre-made wreath form.

If you’re stumped as to what to put on that wreath, Barton suggests a visit to Longwood, Winterthur, Hagley or one of the other holiday hot spots. For example, at Christmas in Odessa, Barton was so captivated by a pineapple decoration that she now creates a similar piece for her own home.

To make it yourself, cut a pineapple in half, scoop out the fruit, and stuff one half of the rind with newspaper. Then attach the pineapple rind to a board that has four rows of nails. Place apples on the nails and arrange magnolia leaves around the perimeter. Feel free to experiment, says Barton, and substitute oranges or another fruit for apples, and any kind of evergreen for the magnolia leaves.

Don’t compare your final product to professionally crafted creations. The point is to be inspired by the pros, says Barton, and then add your own personal touches. Besides, the local museums and gardens get a lot more help with their decorating efforts than you do.

It takes about 100 people, including staff, students and volunteers, to transform Longwood Gardens for the holiday season, says Longwood’s Patricia Evans. “In three days we transform the conservatory and decorate the trees but we start putting the outdoor lights up on the trees in September,” she says.

At Hagley, horticulturalist Renee Huber is the creative mastermind for “Christmas at Hagley.” She makes the outside decorations and oversees floral designer Chris Metzler, who decorates the inside of the 1803 du Pont ancestral home, Eleutherian Mills. Both are assisted by a team of volunteers. Most of the natural materials come from Hagley’s cutting garden and include greens, flowers, native grasses, and, new this year, cotton.

“I had never grown cotton so I gave it a try,” says Huber. “We added cotton pods to our wreaths, both inside and outside the mansion, for something totally different.”

Huber has never been afraid to try something different. One year, she made a wreath of onions — red, white and yellow varieties — interspersed with apples. It looked great but wasn’t suitable for museum conditions because it only lasted a week. “An onion wreath is a great idea for the home, as you long as it’s made shortly before the holidays,” notes Huber.

Native grasses are another natural material that she recommends for home use. Put the plumes in wreaths, table arrangements or in a vase, perhaps combined with a few sprigs of holly. “Cut off the plumes and give them a shot of hair spray so the seeds don’t scatter,” she says. “Or, depending on your decorating theme, hit them with gold or silver spray paint.”

Barton also likes to use spray paint to jazz up her natural materials. For a festive front porch, she suggests spraying osage orange balls with gold paint and arranging the balls in a container by the front door.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily.

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May 11: Bitner to discuss conifers in UD Botanic Gardens lecture

May 10, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Gardeners delight in the first blooms of a flowering shrub, the vibrant color of a summer wildflower, a deciduous tree aflame with fall foliage. But no one stops to admire the conifer, which is often reduced to hiding home foundations or grown as a solitary sentry in the middle of an expanse of lawn.

Well, a few people do stop to admire conifers, such as Richard Bitner, a Longwood Gardens teacher, board-certified anesthesiologist, and author of Conifers for Gardens: An Illustrated Encyclopedia.

Bitner will speak about conifers at a UD Botanic Gardens lecture at 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 11, in the University of Delaware’s Townsend Hall on South College Avenue in Newark. Cost is $10. To register or for more information, send email to [susanell@udel.edu] or call (302) 831-0153.

Bitner will focus on the great diversity of shapes, textures and color in this plant group and how to integrate conifers into a landscape with other woody and herbaceous plants.

Conifers are cone-bearing trees (and a few shrubs) that include such species as pines, firs, junipers, cedars, redwoods, yews and spruces. Conifers grow naturally almost everywhere in the world, including this region, which has 12 native species.

“Since they are green in the winter, conifers are often used as screens and windbreaks but they offer much on their own,” says John Frett, director of the UD Botanic Gardens. “You’ll find distinct textures in the conifers as well as varied plant form, including rounded, weeping, conical and fastigiated [narrowing toward the top].”

Like Frett and Bitner, Sue Barton is a fan of conifers. “Most home gardeners aren’t too enthused by conifers,” says Barton, the ornamental horticulture specialist for UD Cooperative Extension. “They want plants that stay green all year and flower all summer — and such a plant, of course, doesn’t exist.”

So gardeners turn to what they view as the next best thing — broadleaf evergreens, which unlike conifers, often have a spring or summer bloom period. Although Barton likes broadleaf evergreens and uses them widely, she says they can’t deliver the textural impact that conifers do.

Conifers also offer a wide range of colors, notes Barton. She uses unusually colored or variegated conifers as accent or specimen plants in her garden.

“The native Eastern red cedar has several cultivars. The most popular, Emerald Sentinel, has a blue-green color that turns purplish in the winter,” says Barton. “There are lots of blue conifers but none are native to Delaware except Emerald Sentinel.”

White pine has a silverly stripe on the needles that can give the tree an attractive grayish cast, says Barton. Although the white pine isn’t native to Delaware it is native to the East Coast. “There also are pines with yellow bands on their needles that make an interesting effect in the garden,” says Barton.

The region’s native conifers include seven pines, two cedars, a hemlock, a juniper and one deciduous conifer, a bald cypress. The pines include shortleaf, pitch, pond, table mountain, Virginia and loblolly. Delaware’s native cedars are Atlantic white cedar and Eastern red cedar.

“I have Eastern red cedar planted in my home meadow,” says Barton. “In winter, I love the look of the dark green needles next to brown winter grass. It looks even better planted near winterberry holly, which has bright red berries in winter. UD landscape engineer Tom Taylor has used the combination of Eastern red cedar and winterberry in a number of places on UD’s Newark campus.”

UD’s Botanic Gardens also has its share of Eastern red cedars and other conifers. The Clark Garden, directly in front of Townsend Hall, features an area of dwarf conifers.

Another good place to check out conifers is Winterthur’s Pinetum, which was started by Henry Algernon du Pont in 1914. This diverse collection of conifers includes pines, firs, spruces, cedars, and their relatives.

Downstate, look for mature and old-growth loblolly pine in the Inland Bays region and around the Nanticoke River, at such sites as Barnes Woods and Assawoman State Wildlife Area. In Kent County, you can find mature loblollies at the Milford Neck Conservation Area.

If you plan to add conifers to your yard, choose your site carefully. Most do best with full sun and well-drained soil. And be sure to get them into the ground at the right time.

“For most plants, spring or fall work equally well for planting. But it’s best to avoid planting evergreens in the fall,” says Barton. “So plant now.”

Article by Margo McDonough

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